Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe follows two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, through their apprenticeship to the Honorable Scythe Faraday.  (All Scythes take on new names, after “Patron Historics,” aka historical personalities, when ordained.)  Neither want to join the next generation of population-controlling killers, which is why they are deemed perfect to be trained; however, only one year of training one can continue their apprenticeship.

In Scythe’s futuristic setting, mankind has become practically perfect.  The world is now governed by a powerful AI known as the Thunderhead.  Societal and political corruption is a thing of the past.  Diseases have been eliminated; death cheated.  People can de-age and live forever, in theory.  But there are strings attached to the benefit of immortality.

To keep the world’s population in check, a band of Scythes have the power to randomly strike individuals dead.  They also have the power to grant civilians with immunity to “gleaning,” as these institutionalized killings are called.  Scythes operate above the law, governed by their own code / commandments, and within this elite group, corruption and competitiveness and all the vices of the Mortal Age remain.  Soon enough, Rowan and Citra are caught up in the tumultuousness of Scythe culture, their lives put on the line against their wishes and the wishes of their (surprisingly decent and human) mentor.


I’ll admit this book drew me in partially on account of the cover.  I’ve built prop scythes before, and the cover art reminded me very much of a scythe-wielder I’ve cosplayed at conventions.  Guilty as charged. 😀  The premise fascinated me to no end, however.

It’s a YA book, so there was some suggestive content and frank discussions of attraction between characters.  It didn’t make me terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit more than I would have liked.

You have to get used to the notion of on-page death being a routine occurrence.  It’s disturbing but you force yourself to realize, as Citra and Rowan do, that it is simply the way of life (and death) in their world.  (One doesn’t have to like it, the book says; in fact, one really shouldn’t.)  Both the heroes and villains in this story end a lot of lives; the difference is, the heroes do it because, as Scythes, they have to, while the villains do it because they enjoy killing.

I don’t know when the next Scythe book will come out (I’m actually pretty surprised to learn that this book only came out last year), but I heard there’s a motion picture in the works.  I enjoyed reading this enough that I eagerly anticipate getting my hands on a sequel when it’s released.

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